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Time's Man of the Hour
Editor Rick Stengel Adds Some Stars to a Staid Marquee

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 18, 2006

When Rick Stengel was named Time's managing editor in May, he talked about hiring more "star writers" who would help push the magazine toward "a stronger point of view."

Stengel also had to make do with less, since Time Inc. executives were already cutting 550 jobs and now are warning that more reductions are on the way.

Now Stengel is signing several big-name journalists who will bring some glitter to a newsweekly that didn't even use bylines until 1980. Michael Kinsley, the former editor of Slate and the New Republic, will write a biweekly column. Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol will be a part-time columnist, and former Time managing editor Walter Isaacson will contribute essays on foreign affairs. David Von Drehle, a longtime Washington Post reporter and editor, will be a political correspondent.

Stengel is abandoning the old Henry Luce approach -- a small army of faceless reporters and researchers feeding tidbits into a Cuisinart in New York -- in part because that may no longer be economically viable. In the age of blogging, it isn't easy to keep a weekly magazine fresh.

"We're going from a 19th-century factory model to a 21st-century Internet model," Stengel says. "Some of the things we were doing were anachronistic," he says, and often produced a "monolithic" tone.

"One great writer-reporter who has a point of view about a subject important to our lives -- what's better than that?"

The new structure will clearly mean fewer original facts and more massaging of old facts. The question is whether that provides more value for readers or defaults on the core mission of newsgathering.

"They're not going to be doing the familiar Time-ese journalism by committee that they've done for the last 75 years," Von Drehle says. "It will be built around writer-reporters with their own voice. It's like a magazine startup with one of the great brands of American journalism."

Von Drehle, who may relocate to Kansas City, will produce a regular "American Journal" feature that he calls an attempt to "get away from the pieces that are shaped at New York and Washington cocktail parties."

Kinsley, a longtime Time contributor who will drop his Washington Post op-ed column, called a biweekly column in the magazine "an offer I can't refuse." He says Stengel has "interesting ideas" and that writing for Time "has a bigger bounce than you would expect. They're also paying me well and it's secure."

Kristol says his essays will provide a chance "to reach the few lost souls who read Time who don't read the Weekly Standard."

Time has already beefed up its Web site by importing such prominent bloggers as Andrew Sullivan and Ana Marie Cox, the former Wonkette. On the print side, though, Time has let go the Pulitzer-winning investigative duo of Donald Barlett and James Steele, saying the pair had become an unaffordable luxury. Time Inc., which has McKinsey & Co. doing an efficiency study, recently shut Teen People and is selling 18 of its magazines, including Popular Science, Parenting and Field & Stream.

Time, which shifts to Friday publication next month, is shrinking in another way. The magazine is cutting its rate base -- the weekly circulation guaranteed to advertisers -- from 4 million to 3.25 million, and raising the newsstand price by a buck, to $4.95. Newsweek, published by The Washington Post Co., sells 3.1 million copies, and U.S. News & World Report, 2 million.

Anxiety is running high at Time, with insiders saying that numerous staffers could be laid off as early as next month. Some worry that Time could become too much of an opinion magazine rather than one that breaks important stories. But Stengel is promising "our usual mix of reported pieces, reported analysis and opinion."

Same-Sex Sniping

James Dobson, who heads Focus on the Family, cited the work of two veteran researchers this month in a Time column arguing that Mary Cheney's pregnancy is wrong. Now the researchers are crying foul.

The conservative religious leader argued that Cheney and her lesbian partner will fall short as parents because children need a father.

"I was mortified to learn that you had distorted my work," New York University professor Carol Gilligan wrote Dobson. She said he had taken her research out of context "to support discriminatory goals that I do not agree with."

Kyle Pruett of Yale Medical School wrote that he was "startled and disappointed" that Dobson had "cherry-picked a phrase to shore up highly (in my view) discriminatory purposes."

A Focus on the Family statement says that Pruett is trying "to distance himself politically from the use of his scientific conclusions" and that Dobson did not represent Gilligan as opposing same-sex parenting. "The question is not, 'Did Dr. Dobson apply their research only to political stands they agree with?' but rather, 'Is the essay true to what these individuals have written?' We believe that it is."

Time spokeswoman Ali Zelenko says the magazine's role is "to moderate the debates on today's most controversial subjects and present a wide spectrum of views we believe are worth listening to whether we agree with them or not."

Faith-Based Journalism

When New York Times reporter Diana Henriques launched a series on government regulation of religious programs, the paper's Web site posted a bio that described her professional qualifications.

There was also this: "Throughout her life, she has been an active member of various Protestant congregations, serving for several years as an elder at a suburban Presbyterian church and currently serving as the senior warden at an urban Episcopal church in New Jersey."

Henriques says that "it seemed appropriate to be candid about that. I have no reason to hide my religious faith," especially when tackling "a topic that people don't instantly think the New York Times has any expertise in." She says the passage was not offered "with the purpose of inoculating me from criticism from religious groups."

When she was writing about problems with military insurance in 2004, Henriques says, "the tone changed" when she told interview subjects, after being asked, that her father, mother and husband have served in the Army. On the latest series, she says, many people asked whether she had religious experience.

This small exercise in transparency raises some intriguing questions. Would it be useful for readers to know, depending on the subject matter, that a reporter is black, or gay, or married, or Jewish, or a registered Democrat? And where would editors draw the line?

"Maybe we should do it more often," says Times Assistant Managing Editor Glenn Kramon, noting that readers might benefit from knowing Adam Liptak is a lawyer and C.J. Chivers, now in Iraq, is a former Marine. Lawrence Altman, he adds, is identified as an M.D. in his "Doctor's World" column. In Henriques's case, says Kramon, "we thought some readers might ask, 'What does she know about religion?' "

Snow Sorry

As mentioned in this space last week, White House spokesman Tony Snow delivered a pretty hard shot to NBC's David Gregory during a contentious briefing on the Iraq Study Group.

After paraphrasing the group's report and chairmen, Gregory asked: "Can this report be seen as anything other than a rejection of this president's handling of the war?" Snow promptly accused him of "trying to frame it in a partisan way."

Snow told Gregory at a briefing Thursday that he had concluded he was "wrong . . . so I want to apologize and tell you I'm sorry for it." The spokesman told Washington Post Radio he decided it was "unfair" to suggest Gregory is "deliberately doing work on behalf of Democrats."

Gregory is taking the high road: "I appreciated his apology."

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